Talk about a daunting task—first of all, deciding which restaurants would make our annual list, then, for the first time, evaluating them in order of greatness. Can we just say there were several hours of lost sleep as we mentally arranged and rearranged the list in the middle of dark, cold nights? But we're happy (and relieved) to report that, after conferring with our panel of reviewers, there is a consensus. We think you'll agree with our number-one pick. That doesn't mean the other 49 are necessarily lesser in food ambition. They're tops, too. They just offer different charms.
This year, we are thrilled to welcome back old-timers like Tío Pepe, The Oregon Grille, and Milton Inn. We also are excited that more casual places with exciting chefs surfaced at the forefront, like Ze Mean Bean and Jack's Bistro. And then there are brand-new restaurants like Crush and Baltimore Pho that earned rightful spots among the group.
We started our quest for best restaurants in early fall, visiting dozens of contenders before whittling the list to 50. We feasted on mounds of lamb shanks, rockfish fillets, molten cakes, and crème brûlées before making our final decisions. What we really liked is the continued restaurant trend toward using local and seasonal ingredients. But it means that menus change faster than the Dow Jones to accommodate the best products. So while the food we've been devouring over the past several months may be different from what you'll find on menus, you'll still get an idea from our reviews about a chef's skill and creativity in the kitchen. We are so much more than just a crab cake town—although we have to admit a big ball of lush crabmeat will always make our hearts flutter.
You'll also notice that this year we don't include price designations with each listing. Yes, some restaurants are ultra expensive, but we found most of them are coming up with clever specials to attract customers—from half-price wine nights and prix fixe options to "recession-proof" menus. Lucky us. There's never been a better time to indulge in a meal at an area restaurant—and our local places have never been better.
Plus, scroll down for the results of our Best Restaurants Readers' Poll.
1000 Lancaster Street, 410-332-7373
The grande dame of Baltimore restaurants is very much a celebration of the grande dame in the kitchen, chef Cindy Wolf. Her signature is inscribed on the plates, and her presence is everywhere. When an amuse-bouche of artichoke soup arrives, we are told that Chef wants us to have it. Desserts are compliments of the chef as well. Portions are relatively small, and diners choose a range of dishes or give themselves over to Wolf's suggestions. Either way, patrons can count on hours of excellent food, service, and wine, from that first cup of savory, steaming broth to the last tiny chocolate truffle. The menu relies on local ingredients and changes constantly to reflect what's in season, but a favorite is Wolf's signature heads-on shrimp over creamy tasso-ham-studded grits. On a recent visit, other choices included a lemony arugula salad, a rich seafood bisque with chunks of lobster on top, and slices of luscious magret duck breast in a puddle of sauternes. The seafood, including a sweet rockfish and piquant ahi with olives and capers, might be best of all. Every dish is beautiful with interesting accompaniments, such as poached pears for the duck and roasted root vegetables and butter beans for the chops. This is what best is all about.
2. The Black Olive
814 S. Bond Street, 410-276-7141
We never tire of the fish show and tell here. Your server invites you to a cold case filled with your possible dinner—rockfish, red snapper, sea bass, and more. You learn the origins and preparation of each fish. Then, back at your table, you're treated to a complementary amuse-bouche and, no surprise, fat, black olives, while waiting for your meal. For starters, the stuffed calamari on the grill is plump with creamy manouri and feta cheeses; the mussels in ouzo are fat, slippery morsels. The grilled fish is a must here, if only to watch the tableside filleting process, although the finished product will wow you, too. Veering from seafood, we also like the tender, grilled rack of lamb. House-made desserts are properly decadent and creative: baklava ice cream and rein de saba, a deeply intense, flourless chocolate cake flecked with pomegranate seeds. Small cups of thick Greek coffee will cap a memorable meal.
822 Lancaster Street, 410-547-8282
This has to be one of the most beautiful restaurant spaces in Baltimore—from the luxe bar with two signature wild-boar sculptures and elegant enoteca (wine bar) to the pristine, oh-so-proper osteria (formal dining room). The menu leans toward northern Italian, but what we really love is that you can pick your price points: paninis at the bar, pasta at the wood booths and tables, or three-course prezzo fisso with intriguing wines at white-clothed tables. Executive chef Julian Marucci waxes creative on all cooking levels. On our last visit, we were regaled with such treasures as a delightful raw veal-tenderloin appetizer with a delicate poached quail egg, a slow-roasted pork imbued with rosemary, and a big-eye tuna with heirloom tomatoes and olives. Pastry chef Jason Gehring sends you off with a smile after a silky panna cotta, rich apple torte, or lush zabaglione with fresh berries.
25 Crossroads Drive, Owings Mills, 410-356-3030
You would think that an ever-popular mainstay of Baltimore dining would become complacent or stodgy over time, but not Linwoods, which enchants both newcomers and its large and loyal following with its winning formula. The secret of success? Consistently excellent food, featuring a roster of favorites that never date because the ingredients are perfect and the preparation straightforward yet refined. Look at the menu and it's hard to imagine anyone not finding at least half a dozen things they'd want to eat: a heart-stopping starter of succulent lobster tempura gilded with honey butter or an earthy wild mushroom tart drizzled with port oil; entrees that range from massive veal porterhouse to homey meatloaf, from perfectly seared sea bass sided with chilled lemon crab salad to a comforting bowl of smoky shrimp and lush grits. Linwoods seems able to do everything well, down to the desserts, which are some of the best in town. The low-lit, elegant dining room is suitable for both celebration dinners and for chowing down on a humble (but terrific) hamburger, and the service is impeccable. With a formula like that, it's no wonder this place thrives, even in hard times.
5. The Oregon Grille
1201 Shawan Road, Hunt Valley, 410-771-0505
At first glance, The Oregon Grille in north Baltimore County looks too much like an old-world hunt club to serve anything but a good steak and a wedge of iceberg. The dark-paneled interior—reached after passing an honor guard of lawn jockeys—is fastidiously classic, with its horse-themed prints and sports paraphernalia, its leather banquettes, and waiters in formal attire. (Alert: Jackets are required for men in the evenings.) But Chef Stefan Sabo's deft intertwining of color, taste, and texture engages the senses without abandoning tradition. A lobster appetizer served in a tulip ice-cream dish is layered with golden mango and bright-green mint purée, feathered with Belgian endive and romaine lettuce. And a classic, melt-in-your-mouth braised lamb tenderloin is wrapped around fingerling potatoes and baby squash with merguez sausage. The Grille still cranks out the steaks, chops, and oversized steamed lobsters that established its reputation as a horse-country stalwart, and the list of robust wines proffers a range of accompaniments—both affordable and not so much. We love the four indoor fireplaces, and the mahogany-paneled bar. And, of course, when the weather's warm, the bluestone patio, lush with planted flowers, is an ideal spot for a mint julep.
6. Woodberry Kitchen
2010 Clipper Park Road, 410-464-8000
When Woodberry Kitchen opened in late 2007, speculation was rampant that the restaurant's "farm-to-table" locavore ethos was a gimmick, too trendy to sustain the initial groundswell of star-struck adoration from critics and diners alike. Well, although 14 months may not be long enough to pronounce Woodberry an institution, it remains the toughest reservation in town. Its interior is effortlessly gorgeous. And the food here seems to have overcome various inconsistencies to achieve uniformly glorious simplicity, from the fun little "snacks" of house-made pickles and deviled eggs to a "supper" of, say, a Springfield Farm chicken roasted in the brick oven and served with a thick hunk of Spanish tortilla, or glorious Marvesta shrimp sizzling in sauce Romesco. The service, too, has become serious about, well, serving. Eating local may be the trendy thing to do, but at Woodberry, it ain't no gimmick—this is the real thing.
7. Aldo's Ristorante Italiano
306 S. High Street, 410-727-0700
Local celebs dine here on suitably over-the-top, big ticket entrées like tournedos Rossini—filet mignon gilded with seared Hudson Valley foie gras and black truffle sauce—but in these lean times, our favorites at this high-end gem are often on the downright humble side. Massive veal chops and lobster risottos aside, Aldo's does regional Italian comfort food (usually found listed among the specials of the day) with precision and aplomb: a simple but perfect cup of zuppa fagiole (bean soup), an entrée of pappardelle in long-simmering bolognese sauce. The slow-braised osso buco, always on offer, is a model of its kind, falling-apart tender and creamy; long pastas are made in house, and sauces feature quality ingredients prepared without fuss. The warren of hushed, elegant dining rooms and the heavy-hitting wine list may belie this rustic bent, but when it comes to serving authentic Italian, no place in Little Italy does it better than Aldo's.
8. Antrim 1844 Country House Hotel
30 Trevanion Road, Taneytown, 410-756-6812
This historic inn is so intensely romantic that it is suitable for weddings, and, in fact, they often take place there. But even if you aren't exchanging vows, a meal at Antrim 1844 is a special occasion. You're met at the door with warm greetings and offers of wine, then encouraged to mill around or sit by a cozy fire as appetizers, like a crisp, salty, smoked-trout tart and a delicate asparagus-cheese puff are passed around. At the appointed hour, diners are guided to a dining room for a multi-course meal of rustic yet elegant dishes. Only a few appetizers or entrées are offered each night, all keyed to the season. In late autumn, you might feast on velvety butternut squash made with copious amounts of white wine and livened with creamy feta, a cut-with-your-fork filet mignon, or tender roasted shrimp with lobster flan. A salad served in an authentic, peppery pappadum shell provides a welcome respite from such riches, as does a clever, palate-cleansing granita of Burgundy wine. There's no need to worry about which dessert you'll have. A server will leave a selection. There's also a bonus at the end of the meal: You get to keep menus with your names printed in elegant script at the bottom. Nice touch.
1425 Aliceanna Street, 410-534-7296
Sitting in the luxe lap of hipness called Pazo, we were overwhelmed by the dizzying Mediterranean menu of snacks, tapas, grilled steaks, and more. So we cheated and let chef Michael Costa do the work for us, choosing his nine-plate tapas menu for two—and we couldn't have been happier, although very full by the end. Nicely paced, the small plates teased our palate on each arrival—from the piquant mixed olives and luscious butter-lettuce salad in creamy sherry bacon dressing to the ethereal pan-roasted king salmon in a red wine, blood-orange syrup and braised lamb shoulder with chickpea polenta. A sweet brioche ice cream sandwich seals the deal. It's a perfect first date kind of meal. You sit in a pretty space with soaring ceilings (sort of industrial goes glam) and people-watch and chat over the friendly din. Of course, it's an elegant retreat with anyone in your life. Service is stellar, and you couldn't feel more welcomed by the black-clad staff. And who doesn't appreciate free valet parking?
1636 Thames Street, 410-534-6354
Meli opened just under a year ago as the third outpost of Kali's Court's presence in Fells Point. The concept is charmingly continental; pop in for an espresso and pastry during the day, a quick drink in the evening, or a full-blown dinner at night in the striking dining room with its honeycomb theme. On a recent visit, we opted for the last choice, and a great decision it was. It took no time for us to devour succulent house-made duck sausages over rice beans and cabbage. Our waiter (who, by the way, was stellar) recommended the grilled pork tenderloin, but added a caveat, "It's breakfast." Oh, really? Indeed, the moist tenderloin was accompanied by crispy potatoes, quail eggs, and even a little brioche pastry, and truly was reminiscent of breakfast. But it worked famously. Somehow we found room for some lovingly-made baklava.
2127 E. Pratt Street, 410-276-5480
For such a hip, ultra-cool place, everyone sure is down-to-earth and helpful. You feel immediately at home in the cozy dining room with au-courant brick walls and wood floors. And you'll probably be glad for the friendly welcome after scouring the area near Patterson Park for a parking spot. But persevere, one will be found, and soon you'll be unwinding over a great glass of wine, hungrily anticipating your meal. Salt bills itself as a new American tavern, and chef Jason Ambrose's fare lives up to its promise—and then some. The duck confit and braised rabbit is a genius pairing, and a fluke fillet over chanterelle mushroom risotto surprises with an impish dollop of lobster salad. Before heading out to de-squeeze your car from its curb mates, do limber up with dessert. We felt empowered after indulging in the goat-cheese doughnuts drizzled with lavender honey and vanilla sea salt.
12. The Oceanaire Seafood Room
801 Aliceanna Street, 443-872-0000
Oceanaire's airy, sorta-deco-Gatsby atmosphere invites one to feel spendy, and parting with money is easy to do here. But if you are in the mood for a fresh seafood extravaganza, there are few better ponds to drop your pennies into than this one. The oyster bar features a continuously rotating selection of juicy gems from around the country, and the fish selection changes daily. We're pretty jaded about crab cakes, but we're forced to admit that Oceanaire's example is high quality and satisfyingly plump. We can't resist the lobster if we're feeling flush; this 2-5 pound beauty arrives perfectly steamed, split, and pre-cracked for your convenience. We also appreciate the decidedly Japanese take on seared big-eye tuna—barely kissed by the grill and served with a boldly flavored wasabi-infused dip. The wine list does err on the pedestrian side, but is still dramatically more engaging than the offerings at many national-chain, fine-dining spots.
13. Petit Louis Bistro
4800 Roland Avenue, 410-366-9393
Lately, the air of bonhomie seems headier than ever at this deservedly popular Roland Park boîte. Maybe it's the fact that you're welcomed with charm and cheer the minute you walk through the door. Or maybe it's the celebratory sound of happy diners that makes you feel as if you've stumbled upon a particularly good party. Whatever the source, a night at Louis is always festive. Standard, straight-ahead bistro food—from perfect, crispy frites in their paper cone to lush duck confit to deeply addictive pot de crème au chocolat—mingles on the menu with specials that make you wish you could eat here every night. The reliably divine French comfort food combines with a crack wine list and an expert wait staff to serve it. Kind of gives new meaning to the phrase fête du jour.
14. Kali's Court
1606 Thames Street, 410-276-4700
Your taste buds kick into gear even before you enter this elegant space of dark wood and plush seating. You know you're in for a flavor explosion of clever ingredients from chef Damon Hersh, who raids the classics and tweaks the modern with his deft interpretations. For instance, grilled mahi mahi gets bravado treatment with oven-braised frog-leg risotto and sautéed English peas in tarragon-mint butter. And roasted skate wing (really!)—a white fillet with a mild flavor and a texture similar to scallops—goes exotic with "forbidden rice," a deep-purple, heirloom grain with a wonderfully nutty taste. But don't forgo appetizers in your rush for entrées. Incredibly tender grilled calamari is dressed up with a fennel, apple, and red-onion slaw, while chunky Spanish shrimp is memorable with spicy andouille sausage and creamy apple polenta. Our only grievance, despite the exemplary endeavors in the kitchen, is that the front of the house can be lacking. No one offers to take your coat when you enter. And the wait staff can be hit or miss with lagging service. But the marvelous honey-laced baklava nicely soothes any gaffes.
15. The Prime Rib
1101 N. Calvert Street, 410-539-1804
Time seems to stand still at The Prime Rib, where the leopard-patterned carpet, brass-studded leather chairs, and black lacquer paneling give the place an air of clandestine adventure, channeling a Prohibition-era speakeasy. We love the piano player, seen tickling out lounge standards through the acrylic lid of the grand piano, and the solicitous waiters, who leap to fold a napkin or refill a wine glass. But The Prime is known for steak, and steak is here in abundance. The eponymous cut fills your plate and sneaks over the sides, the thick filet mignon slices with the side of your fork. The extensive list of beef is rivaled only by the fish selection: wild salmon and swordfish steak, lobster tails, and rich, creamy imperial crab. While you are just as likely to see a youth in blue blazer celebrating graduation with his proud parents, The Prime is a place for swirling a big Cab in a large wine glass and sneaking peeks at the power broker in the back, or the gossip maven sipping a martini with a gal pal at the bar.
16. Shula's Steakhouse
101 W. Fayette Street, Sheraton Baltimore City Center Hotel, 410-385-6601
If you crave massive slabs of beef and want to be treated like visiting royalty, drive up to the restaurant's free valet parking and get ready for a memorable meal. The dining room is hushed and refined with dark wood and gilded artwork—only you're not gazing at works by the Masters, you're looking at the feats of football great Don Shula, who founded the restaurant chain. The staff takes great pains to make you feel important. But it's good-natured, not stuffy, even the delivery of the ubiquitous cart with Angus steaks (including a 48-ounce whopper for $95 plus tax!) and the recitation of their merits. Start with barbecue shrimp wrapped in bacon before tucking into the surf and turf (an 8-ounce filet mignon and crab cake) or, say, a 24-ounce porterhouse. And why stop? You deserve the marvelous lava cake and chocolate soufflé.
17. The Capital Grille
500 E. Pratt Street, 443-703-4064
Perfectionists, rejoice. The Capital Grille delivers a meal that is entirely without missteps, from the free valet parking to the tiny candies by the door when you leave. With its dark-wood paneling and elegant seating, it looks like a million bucks, and a menu of indulgent standbys like lobsters, oysters, and steaks (plus four-figure bottles of wine) only adds to the impression that this place is something special. Still, there's no reason to be intimidated. The service is remarkably unsnobby, and the food straightforward. Entrées, such as a mild, sesame-seared tuna steak or a filet mignon, are uncomplicated, letting the simple flavors shine without showy kitchen tricks. And some dishes, like the macaroni and cheese with lobster, show an eagerness to please. Yet, nothing is boring. Even Key lime pie is unusually light and smooth, and topped with pretty pistachios. Heck, try whatever you want. It's all good.
18. Sotto Sopra
405 N. Charles Street, 410-625-0534
This longtime, local favorite is where homesick Italians go when they're longing for a taste of la cucina autentica. In other words, no heaping platters of Italian-American spaghetti and meatballs here (not that there's anything wrong with that), just the subtle and sophisticated flavors of (mostly) northern Italy. In fact, until the acquisition of executive chef Bill Crouse, owner Riccardo Bosio recruited many of his chefs from his native Bergamo. Despite his American origins, Crouse happily hasn't altered anything about the menu's strengths: exquisite homemade pastas like duck-stuffed ravioli with sage and truffle veal reduction or pappardelle with smoked mozzarella and fresh tomato sauce; suave versions of standards like vitello tonnato and grilled bronzino; bright homemade sorbeto for dessert. The surroundings, as always, are as sexy as the food, and the wine list is stocked appropriately with intriguing Italians. Our only quibble? Beware of concert nights. The kitchen, for all its strengths, has trouble staying out of the weeds when there's a rush of patrons flooding the dining room.
19. Fin Steak & Seafood
888 S. Broadway, 410-522-2195
We won't lie about it: Fin took us by surprise, thwarting expectations built on the seemingly endless parade of failed restaurants that preceded it at the Admiral Fell Inn. The first sign that we'd have to revise our thinking came when our first courses arrived, exquisitely plated and as pleasing to eat as they were to look at. A savory cauliflower panna cotta, cool and subtly earthy, sported a bright yellow drizzle of lemon vinaigrette and a sprinkle of raisin gremolata; perfectly grilled calamari were sparked with vibrantly green and red Argentine chimichurri. Entrées convinced us we'd found an underrated gem, from the crispy goat-cheese-and-lavender potato gratin accompanying juicy double-cut pork loin chops to the hearty but delicate roasted Cornish hen roulade, with its apple-chestnut stuffing and sunflower seed risotto. Elements of every dish were composed to subtly complement each flavor on the plate, announcing that chef/owner Avi Cohen is a thoughtful and imaginative talent in the kitchen. We do question the name, which misleads you into thinking this is a seafood restaurant. There's seafood on the menu, but it's hardly the main event. Despite the name, Fin is simply a surpassingly pleasant venue for some of the most rewarding New American food in Baltimore.
20. Blue Sea Grill
614 Water Street, 410-837-7300
Blue Sea Grill is gorgeous, urbane, and swank, but the pretty face is backed up with top-notch service and impressive fare. A list of daily fish, raw bar offerings, classic appetizers treated to subtle updates, and eclectic main courses comprise the menu. The ceviche is outstanding—luxuriously tender with an excellent balance of acid and savory—while raw shellfish is always succulent, clean, and, of course, impeccably fresh, as is the fish, which is unfussily served broiled, blackened, or pan fried. More involved entrées, such as a deeply flavored and complex bouillabaisse, are executed skillfully. And whimsical desserts like pineapple upside-down cake are not to be missed. It's a thick slab of the tropical fruit warmed to supple tenderness perched atop a pound cake base, with fragrant coconut ice cream and drizzles of caramel, balsamic reduction, and intense coconut sauce. And yes, it's as good as it sounds.
21. O'Leary's Seafood Restaurant
310 Third Street, Annapolis, 410-263-0884
In an unassuming, postcard-pretty house near the water, diners in the know will find high-quality seafood in luxe treatments. Starters are particularly lavish, like the lobster cappuccino (a cute presentation involving lobster bisque, lobster cream, and lobster ceviche), and fat, nicely seared sea scallops accompanied by roast pork belly and preserved lemon. But it is in the concise offering of entrées where the kitchen's skillful hand is evident—an intriguing sauté of chanterelles, shiitakes, grilled grapes, and chestnuts; a prodigious fillet of salmon, simply and perfectly cooked despite its heft; and cylinders of tuna that somehow remain garnet rare even as wrappings of prosciutto are seared crisp. The service is generally good, though at times a tad amateur, while the dining room is beautifully appointed but small. Reservations are a must.
518 N. Charles Street, 410-727-1800
There's always a party going on at Ixia, with its midnight-blue walls and idiosyncratic décor: Warhol-inspired images of Jackie O, shimmering drapes, strands of beads, and miniature mirrors. The ever-changing menu is reputedly Mediterranean-inspired, but Ixia's food, like the décor, is eye-catching and eclectic without going too far over the top. Chef Kevin Miller's small plates are miniature works of art—from a tower of creamy beef tartare with chili sauce and crispy plaintain chips to mushroom ravioli with broth infused with truffles and English peas. And entrées cleave to the seasons: a cold-weather dish of slow-braised duck or soft-shell crabs that radiate summer. Don't end the party without the chocolate flight, a decadent threesome of oozing mud cake, a puffy chocolate-malt "marshmallow," and chocolate Mexican flan.
23. Milton Inn
14833 York Road, Sparks, 410-771-4366
The Milton Inn, which has stood in various incarnations since the 1740s, reminds us of a time when going to any restaurant was a special occasion. Indeed, you're just as likely to see a couple entertaining an elderly relative as one celebrating a romantic milestone. And Chef Brian Boston knows this well, designing a menu based on American ingredients, some prepared in classic French style, some with a twist. His offerings accommodate the most straightforward palates—there's an a la carte selection of meat and fish with various sauces to choose from—while satisfying the more sensuous: venison dusted in fennel pollen with cippolini onions or wild salmon crusted in brown sugar with chestnut stuffing sweetened by Amaretto beurre blanc. And it's all made extra tempting by a server who describes each special with flair. The sincere and focused service does just as much as the luscious dessert surrounded by a swirl of chocolate, proclaiming, "Happy birthday!" or "Congratulations!" to confirm that, yes, this is a special event.
24. Chameleon Cafe
4341 Harford Road, 410-254-2376
In one short year, Chameleon has vaulted from its "urban pioneer" caché to the status of patriarch as the Harford Road corridor experiences a surge of new restaurants. But while the location may no longer be outré, chef Jeff Smith's menu remains inspired. A stickler for local and seasonal foods, Smith likes to mix and match flavors: anchovies pepper a tart of caramelized onions; parsnip soup is laced with celeriac and apples. There's usually a nod on the menu to vegetarians: maybe a root vegetable-stuffed acorn squash in winter, a ragout with gnocchi in spring. Smith also loves his meat, plating a pork loin with smoked sausage and lardons, serving up a succulent New York strip with rich wine-steeped duxelles sauce. The cornmeal-crusted oysters have been a consistent favorite, and we love the desserts: seasonal fruit tart, creme brulee, and chocolate ganache with chai-flavored whipped cream. It's all accompanied by a wine list that doesn't overwhelm, with up to half-priced bottles on Wednesday nights. And while the butternut-hued walls decorated with local artwork, stark (okay, not so comfortable) chairs, and personable servers keep things casual, this is still the most elegant restaurant in the 'hood.
25. Tio Pepe
10 E. Franklin Street, 410-539-4675
Yes, the ambiance is old-fashioned; the service can be hoity-toity; and the menu hasn't changed much over the four decades the restaurant has been a Mt. Vernon mainstay. But we sensed a definite softening around the edges on our last visit. Did the maître d' really smile at us? Were there innovative specials on the menu? Did the chef actually come out of the kitchen and pleasantly greet diners? We were definitely feeling pampered by the service and food—from the plump shrimp in a heady garlic sauce and an oh-so-comforting black-bean soup to the thick fillet of sole with bananas lathered with hollandaise and the wonderfully rustic suckling pig with its crackly skin and toothsome meat. Portions are still retro huge. Plan to split dessert—we couldn't resist the famous pine-nut roll and chocolate roulade—or happily cart half of it home with you along with your other leftovers.
26. Baltimore Pho
1116 Hollins Street, 410-752-4746
We appreciate that this Vietnamese treasure has been instrumental in the revival of the neighborhood around Hollins Market, but we're also committed to Pho for purely hedonistic reasons: the bracingly sweet, hot and spicy green papaya salad garnished with fat shrimp; plump rice-paper summer rolls of fresh vegetables, mint, and basil; fragrant beef scented with spices and simmered in coconut milk; exceptionally crisp, beautifully fried calamari doused with red pepper and onions. Oh—and the eponymous pho, the traditional Vietnamese comfort soup, here served in a richly delicious array of variations, including a "Baltimore" version featuring crab and other seafood delights. The lovely black-and-red dining room with its exposed brick, white tablecloths, and pressed-tin ceiling, belies the fact that prices here are dirt cheap. A splurge without splurging? Sounds like a good deal to us!
27. Trattoria Alberto
1660 Crain Highway, Glen Burnie, 410-761-0922
Tucked in a run-of-the-mill shopping strip, the restaurant doesn't exactly broadcast its presence. But this classic, airy trattoria makes us feel the way our parents must have felt when they stepped out of a suburban cul-de-sac for an elegant night out. On a recent visit, we were utterly spoiled by an Italian waiter who treated us as if nothing was more important than finding just the right wine to complement our fettucine alla matriciana—redolent of tomatoes and nostalgia. But there's more than red sauce on the mostly northern Italian menu: a veal chop with mushrooms and roasted garlic, chicken with pepperincino, and plenty of beef options. And absolutely choose the berries in zabaglione, potent with Madeira, for dessert.
28. Della Notte Ristorante
801 Eastern Avenue, 410-837-5500
Della Notte is certainly among the biggest restaurants we know, commanding an entire block at the gateway to Little Italy. And its wine list—with 1,400 selections—is reputed to be the largest in Maryland. But the restaurant is enchanting in spite of—and perhaps because of—all this. Where else can you dine in a vast, round room under the faux boughs of a gargantuan tree (pieced together from real oaks) within the painted backdrop of an Italian piazza? And the substantial menu does not disappoint either: There's fresh ravioli stuffed with goat cheese and wild mushrooms or radicchio, a crisp-skinned whole bronzino, and tender lamb with chanterelles, crusted in pine nuts. We can't think of a better place to take out-of-towners who can experience a fantasyland worthy of Moonstruck, while, at the same time, digging into some of the best crab cakes in town.
29. The Helmand
806 N. Charles Street, 410-752-0311
If all you know about Afghanistan is what you hear on the news, you might want to explore its complex culture a bit further, especially the exquisite cuisine. Its food is the antithesis of a troubled nation. It seduces and woos with sensual, sun-drenched flavors like cinnamon, cardamom, garlic, and cumin, and ingredients like earthy lamb, fragrant basmati rice, and tangy yogurt. There's often a yin-yang of sweet and pungent. The Afghan-owned Helmand takes its job as food ambassador seriously. The starter kaddo borawni showcases the most tender baked baby pumpkin, sweetly sugared and paired with a heady yogurt garlic sauce. Entrées like the dwopiaza feature fall-apart lamb boosted by yellow split peas and onions marinated in vinegar. The mourgh challow transforms a hefty chicken breast and leg in a rich tomato broth with the country's signature long-grain rice. You learn soon enough that challow is basmati with cumin; pallow is the grain with cinnamon. Afghan vanilla ice cream is the perfect finisher with dates, dried figs, and fresh mango in the mix. And you can't go home without the powerful punch of dense, grainy Turkish coffee.
720B Aliceanna Street, 410-659-0099
We've always liked Roy's, the festive-but-elegant Hawaiian fusion restaurant, warmed by teak-hued woodwork and soft mango walls—an early entry to the Harbor East scene. But this year, we can't help but muse over the question: What would Obama order? It might be the seared onaga, caught fresh off the islands' shores, with Asian noodles and stir-fried shrimp. Or it might be a dish that would be right at home in Kansas or Chicago: braised short ribs with mashed potatoes, in a thick, sweet reduction, presented on a crisscross of bright asparagus. Those on the mainland don't get much opportunity to sample Hawaiian cuisine, and Roy Yamaguchi, who opened his first restaurant in 1988, weaves island tastes into a menu with something for everyone. Lobster pot stickers are packed with generous chunks of meat, Maryland rockfish is served with pumpkin ravioli, and a "BLT" salad has Portuguese sausage and a drizzle of Gorgonzola. There's also a lively drinks menu, which includes a signature martini made with vodka that has been steeped with pineapple for five days. That fruit, native to our 50th state, also graces an upside-down cake that is plump, sweet, and piping hot.
31. The Dogwood
911 W. 36th Street, 410-889-0952
We can thank Galen Sampson for so many things—bringing his cooking talents to Baltimore, serving delicious foods emphasizing local ingredients, recognizing area farmers, and helping the homeless and recovering addicts through a restaurant-training program. His wife, Bridget, who co-owns Dogwood with her husband, is also a big part of the story. Since it opened, The Dogwood has cleverly blended the comfort of a neighborhood spot with outstanding preparations from the kitchen. We find the twinkly lights and bright stars hanging from the ceiling a charming addition to the pastel-colored walls. You don't even realize you're in a basement. But it's really the food that's the draw. On any given day, you might succumb to a dense, Baltimore-style crab soup or garlicky escargots cleverly tucked into a tender, edible miniature pumpkin—or entrées like the duo of lamb (a small rack and braised shank) and an Alaskan halibut wrapped in carrots, parsnips, and leeks. Desserts are house-made and fun, whether a lemon tart humorously decorated with blueberries made into a smiley face or a rich carrot cake with dreamy, cream-cheese icing.
32. Jack's Bistro
3123 Elliott Street, 410-878-6542
Leave it to executive chef/owner Ted Stelzenmuller to adopt a cooking method most of us have never heard of—sous vide. Pioneered in Europe, it's a technique by which food is vacuum packed in pouches and then heated in water at a constant temperature to achieve peak flavors and moistness. We appreciate the chef's efforts to show us new stuff. A sous vide pork loin turned out to be a juicy, fork-tender slab of meat, and sous vide "steamed shrimp" were plump, sweet morsels in their shells. The chef has a terrific knack for mixing and matching ingredients in clever ways. A Spanish "chorizo thing" is masterful with 12-year-old Manchego cheese and grand-reserve sherry vinegar. A bistro crab cake is whackily paired with mashed Okinawa purple sweet potatoes. Desserts also keep the surprises coming. Pink-peppercorn-and-lavender ice cream with a warm sugar cookie soothes the palate. But we don't think anyone leaves here without ordering the fried s'mores (nor should they), two decadent graham cracker-chocolate-marshmallow cookies with chocolate sauce and s'mores ice cream.
33. TD Lounge
1717 Eastern Avenue, 410-534-5650
We almost dismissed this obscure bistro. In June, the former Timothy Dean Bistro changed its name, menu, and décor—and promptly fell off the foodie radar screen. Now, it's time to pay attention again. While the downstairs bar and lounge area are more attuned to drinks, appetizers, and live performances, the upstairs dining room is intimate and charming with copper-topped tables, golden brick walls, and burnished wood floors—a perfect place to savor a "recession-proof" menu with main courses at $20 and under. Really, any starter will do—from the humongous serving of fried calamari to the ridiculously fat and delicious Thai curry mussels. But you don't want to miss the best-ever mac and cheese with butter-poached Maine lobster meat and heavenly black truffles. It's the attention to details that seduces, like braised beef short ribs with potato mousseline, root vegetables, and pinot noir sauce, or pan-fried Cajun catfish with hoppin' John grits and Parmesan. Chocolate molten cake may seem ordinary these days, but this one explodes with intense flavor. And, of course, TD Lounge goes the extra step with always-appreciated French press coffee.
34. The Brass Elephant
924 N. Charles Street, 410-547-8480
The Mt. Vernon restaurant remains a bastion of grace and fine dining. The regal décor and superbly professional service exude class and sophistication, while the seasonal menu by new chef Marcus Olson offers an intelligent but approachable, very American take on carefully sourced seafood, meats, and game. Native American mixed grill is a handsome montage of bison and wild duck, flanked by deliciously crusty mushroom bread pudding, silken squash flan, grilled asparagus, and an intensely earthy, bison pan-reduction sauce—a study in straightforward New World refinement—while the miso-glazed Alaskan cod with dumplings and bok choy provides a bit of a detour. Appetizers display yet more whimsy—pickled strawberries accompany a rich duck breast, calamari sautéed with bacon and garbanzo beans is addictive, and a tart of sweet onion and pear is elevated by basil pesto and a mild Gorgonzola. As staff, bedecked in crisp black and white, glide about facilitating course transitions, we are reminded of just how uncommon such elegance in dining has become, and silently chide ourselves for not shining our shoes.
35. Peter's Inn
504 S. Ann Street, 410-675-7313
The deliciously quirky Peter's Inn, with its mash-up of rec-room-cum-biker-bar-cum-white-tablecloth-restaurant vibe, continues along its merry way, a safe harbor in stormy times. Despite a few niceties, like those tablecloths, the place is Cheers-like in its comforting familiarity: The former regular we arrived with—who hadn't been around in years—was greeted warmly, as if she'd never been away. Karin Tiffany (chef and co-owner, along with husband Bud) has a way with rich, soul-satisfying cuisine. A dish of braised veal cheeks in orange bordelaise warmed us happily on a cold winter night; potato-crusted day-boat scallops in a leek beurre blanc made our seafood-loving friend smile. And a heavenly dessert of Belgian chocolate pot de crème assured that the good vibe lasted long after we left the premises. It's good to know that some things never change.
36. Iron Bridge Wine Company
10435 State Route 108, Columbia, 410-997-3456
At this tiny, chic restaurant, the tables are so close that patrons can't help but admire each other's food, and often wind up deep in conversation with people they've never met before. The restaurant has already expanded once, but it's still pleasantly crowded. Iron Bridge has earned its following with dishes that are as small, pleasing to the eye, and sophisticated as the restaurant itself, from an exquisite crisp pizza topped with duck confit, Gruyère cheese, olives, and shallots, to an intensely flavored almond and vanilla crème brûlée. Though main courses like roasted chicken breast and pepper-crusted sirloin are comforting, we prefer the appetizers, including the worth-the-drive seared ahi tuna flavored with soy and sesame and served over peanuty cold soba noodles. Fun food interpretations are celebrated here, as with a "burger, fries, and shake," consisting of one tiny, juicy, organic beef hamburger on toasted brioche, a tangle of skinny string fries, and a miniature raspberry milkshake that tastes like a summer day. Iron Bridge is a wine store, too. Patrons can wander around, find what they like, and drink it with their meal.
37. Aida Bistro & Wine Bar
7185 Columbia Gateway Drive, Columbia, 410-953-0500
Aida brings urban, jazz-inflected sophistication to the most sterile setting imaginable, a suburban office park in Howard County. But owners Joe and Mary Barbera have infused their restaurant with charm and confidence, from the first friendly greeting at the door to the final sip of excellent coffee. Warmly painted walls create a backdrop that allows the seemingly effortless Italian menu to shine. The offerings skip merrily from favorite red-sauce fare like eggplant parmigiana to more sophisticated dishes like homemade ravioli stuffed with a delightful mix of andouille sausage, shrimp, and smoked Gouda in a fresh, chunky marinara. A nightly prix fixe option lets diners choose two appetizers and a main course from an ever-changing selection, with wine or beer flights to match, if they want. Nobody will blame you if you can't decide between the Parmesan and herb-rubbed pork chop and the free-range roasted chicken with Marsala, but the knowledgeable staff will do its best to guide you through both the regular offerings and the specials. Don't leave without trying one of the Italian-themed, made-in-house desserts like crème brûlée or cannoli.
38. Osteria 177
177 Main Street, Annapolis. 410-267-7700
This innocuous storefront on Annapolis's Main Street bursts into a large and crazy-elegant dining room with glittering crystal chandeliers, funky postmodern, white leather chairs, and dark-paneled walls decorated with bright oil paintings. The opulent banquettes, scattered with pillows, encourage guilty pleasures: handholding, wine sipping, lingering for a molten mini-chocolate cake and a sampling from the beguiling list of dessert teas. But we're getting ahead of ourselves. The menu here is just as enthusiastic as the interior design, though more regionally focused—and that region is the Italian coastline. There's a page given over to an intriguing selection of pasta: sacchetti packets stuffed with pear and Gorgonzola; ink-squid spaghetti with calamari, shrimp, and baby clams. Appetizers are carefully executed: a drum-shaped timballo of paper-thin eggplant in soothing tomato coulis; tuna carpaccio laid out on a bed of arugula with pine nuts and slices of avocado, drizzled with a sweet balsamic reduction. And entrées, like a tender veal stuffed with prosciutto and provolone, all come adorned with a pretty orchid blossom—perhaps an excessive show of frivolity, but entirely in keeping with Osteria's quirky elegance.
39. Darker Than Blue Cafe
3034 Greenmount Avenue, 443-872-4468
Taking its name from a Curtis Mayfield song, "We People Who Are Darker Than Blue," this small cafe brightens a strip of Greenmount Avenue in Waverly with a cool vibe and a Southern inflection. The first time we visited, we were struck by the dramatic oblong plates, which served anything from a luscious crab-stuffed shrimp appetizer to the sumptuous red velvet cake for dessert. The message was clear: Expect the Southern classics on the menu to be dolled up and paraded out with flair. But Chef Casey Jenkins relaxes somewhat, too, with simpler dishes that stick close to their roots—and to your ribs. There's crispy fried chicken with mac and cheese or waffles on the side, Louisiana tilapia blackened enough to sizzle even palates raised on the Bayou, and slow-roasted baby back ribs with a side of cornbread and sweet potato butter. Jenkins opened with the hopes of creating a jazz-and-blues-infused supper club, a goal realized only erratically so far. Plans are to add more music and expand (with a liquor license; it's currently BYO) to the space upstairs. And though we're rooting for Jenkins's dream, we're perfectly content with this hidden gem just as it is.
8293 Main Street, Ellicott City, 410-465-4004
Tersiguel's, which has occupied a white-frame house in historic Ellicott City since 1990, is not a place we're inclined to question. The Tersiguels—Fernand and Odette—have been preparing French food for American diners since coming to the United States from the northern province of Brittany in 1963. And they've been growing the necessary produce at their Randallstown farm for more than 20 years—long before local eating became de riguer. Forty-four-year-old Michel Tersiguel, who trained with his parents, as well as at the Culinary Institute of America, continues the tradition. The menu is rich with such Gallic classics as roasted veal with peppercorn sauce, coquilles St. Jacques, and escargots in garlicky butter and wine. To be sure, there are updates—risotto with the roast chicken, Asian pears in the salad—as well as such nods to our region as the crêpe Maryland, a traditional buckwheat pancake folded over crabmeat and spinach in a sweet, creamy sauce. The $36.95 four-course, prix fixe menu is a great entry point: creamy paté de campagne with chewy bread from Bonaparte bakery, a simple green salad dressed in Dijon vinaigrette, bouillabaisse-style fish stew with saffron, or pork tenderloin with mushroom sauce. And for heaven's sake, shell out some extra bucks for the flashy finish with crêpes Suzette, torched at your table.
41. The Wine Market
921 E. Fort Avenue, 410-244-6166
Anytime a chef leaves an award-winning restaurant, you have to wonder what will happen in the kitchen. Not to worry in this case. Sous chef Jason Lear capably moved up to the top spot after Christian DeLutis chased his cooking dreams to Ireland last year. (He's since returned to Baltimore and is now chef de cuisine at The Dogwood.) If possible, the food is even more creative and exciting. Starters like the 12-hour braised oxtail ragout and the shrimp and pork dumplings set the stage for entrées like the clever sake-marinated black cod with house-made squid-ink cappellitti and a simple but elegant 12-ounce rib-eye steak pan-roasted with garlic and rosemary. But, honestly, you're also here for the wine. Place your food order and wander into the adjoining wine shop to pick out a suitable appellation. Even with a $9 corkage fee, the bottles (only about 900) are reasonably priced. Or choose from more than 30 wines by the glass. Then settle into the chic, refurbished warehouse setting and enjoy the vibe. Oh, yes, another plus: free parking!
42. Fogo de Chão
600 E. Pratt Street, 410-528-9292
Especially on jam-packed Saturday nights, there's a manic quality to the dining experience at Fogo—it's a little like being witness to a stampede. It doesn't help that a lone bartender single-handedly fills drink orders at the bar for a multitude of waiting customers as well as for the kitchen, or that the hostess seems overwhelmed by the hordes. And you'd best be prepared to have an eating strategy beforehand, or the endless parade of galloping gauchos with their "fire-roasted" meats will have you reeling. (Hint: Turn your little disk to green, ask the first meat guy who approaches for the cuts you want, then stop the madness by turning your disk to red after they've arrived.) Still, despite the atmosphere of diners gone wild, Fogo is quite possibly the best stateside churrascaria around. The salad bar is a marvel of bounteous quality, with an endless array of fresh items to woo even die-hard vegetarians. The meats are likewise expertly prepared and, unlike the typical chain steakhouse, in endless supply. If you are a carnivore and tend to regard eating as a competitive sport, you've found your holy grail. And even if you aren't or don't, Fogo is still an unbeatable, one-of-a-kind dining experience.
43. The Bicycle
1444 Light Street, 410-234-1900
What we like about The Bicycle is its charming spareness—bare stainless-steel tables with faux-marble finishes, simple graphic posters on the walls, and uncovered, gleaming wood floors. It's an unpretentious yet cozy double-rowhouse-turned-bistro with an open kitchen, a labyrinth of dining rooms, and terrace seating in warm weather. But its simplicity is the perfect canvas for chef/owner Nicholas Batey's eclectic and colorful fusion cuisine. A piled-high fluff of baby greens with an eye-opening chipotle-chili vinaigrette nurtures fried oysters so creamy they melt in your mouth. The spicy corn soup plus blue crab is a deep-orange ode to its ingredients with a cooling swirl of chive-cilantro sour cream. Mahi mahi goes tropical with coconut sauce and plantain hash. And the succulent Mongolian BBQ beef short ribs are cleverly arranged over fluffy Yukon-gold mashed potatoes. The chef is playful with his food and spices and doesn't mind turning up the heat. We're glad he does. French press coffee puts a fine finishing touch on a light-as-a-feather mocha-chocolate cappuccino cake and a dense bananas Foster bread pudding.
1026 S. Charles Street, 410-752-3810
After closing this summer for a makeover, Corks is back, reinvented as a casual landing pad for folks who appreciate good food and wine, but aren't in the mood for a full-blown, fine dining experience; we're also thrilled they are now open for lunch as well. The menu has been significantly revamped, focusing on simple preparations, affordably priced. A BLT is recast as a super-rich wonder stuffed with braised pork belly, and the roasted chicken—a half bird—gets a significant dress up when draped in a thin patina of truffle butter. We're smitten by their weekly steak and cabernet sauvignon special, featuring fantastic cuts at attractive prices that put many a steakhouse to shame. As always, the wine list reflects the passions of wine director Chris Coker. The new Patrick Sutton interior is intimate and rich-feeling, right down to the plush new carpet we've waited so long to see.
510 E. Belvedere Avenue, 443-278-9001
There were great expectations when chef/owner Daniel Chaustit (formerly of Christopher Daniel) opened his new place in the former Taste spot near Belvedere Square. And he didn't disappoint us. The modern American menu is neighborhood friendly with a range of prices and choices. Chaustit also kept Taste's beautiful décor—sleek, minimalist, and inviting. We love his little food surprises: teeny grilled cheese sandwich croutons with the silky tomato soup, blueberries and roasted pumpkin seeds in the spinach salad, and brown-sugar bacon on the grilled-chicken sandwich. Entrées are down-to-earth and earnest, from the hunk of grilled rockfish to the fat beef filet. But if there's ever a reason to grab a table here, it's the desserts. A root beer float with homemade cookies, individual pineapple upside-down cakes, and mini Jewish apple cakes made us groupies.
1501 Bolton Street, 410-383-8600
Want the worries of the world to fade away? Well, take thee to b. While you wait for your food, sip a glass of cool chardonnay and relax in this neighborhood bistro, listening to the buzz of conversation around you and looking out the giant glass windows at one of the best people-watching corners in town. Then, enjoy appetizers like triangles of grilled polenta in a velvety, garlicky tomato sauce or the melt-in-the-mouth-tender grilled calamari. Entrées are ambitious but never over the top, and a chalkboard highlights whatever wacky-good idea the chef has devised for the night—maybe duck breast drizzled in rich pomegranate sauce. Salads, like the pretty, homegrown mesclun mix, are always interesting, topped with marinated tomatoes and a splash of balsamic vinaigrette. Desserts are haute-humble and include bread pudding, caramelized apple tart, and homemade ice creams in a range of interesting flavors, like Nutella. You'll walk away satisfied but not stuffed, and vowing to return soon.
47. Victoria Gastro Pub
8201 Snowden River Parkway, Columbia, 410-750-1880
Not so long ago, an English-themed restaurant would have seemed like a bad joke, aimed at a cuisine once known for greasy fish fries and soggy, tasteless vegetables. Then came gastro pubs, the trendy term for bars that actually care about the food they serve. Victoria Gastro Pub capitalizes on the trend with a sumptuous restaurant of dark woods and velvet trim, serving an enjoyable menu that might not be suitable for the Queen, but would probably suit the princes just fine. Appetizers of cornmeal-fried oysters and asparagus spears in a tempura batter seem designed to show off the kitchen's light touch with the fryer, while a large selection of salads show an admirable attention to veggies. Seafood gets big play here, from a delightful appetizer of crab, shrimp, and Gouda on flat bread to a main course of monkfish in a light broth infused with lemongrass, coconut, and ginger. Other entrées have stick-to-the-ribs power, from a grilled cheese studded with lobster to a decadent stew of fork-tender short ribs over creamy macaroni and cheese. If you can resist gobbling your whole meal, you might have room for desserts like chocolate praline cake, apple dumpling, or English trifle.
48. Jordan's Steakhouse
8085 Main Street, Ellicott City, 410-461-9776
If you're looking for dainty food or an austere setting, walk right on past Jordan's Steakhouse. This family-owned restaurant in Ellicott City's historic downtown offers rich flavors, enormous portions, over-the-top presentations, and a setting so sumptuous it's almost rococo, with crystal hanging from every light fixture and seating so luxurious you want to stay all night. Thick, namesake steaks are juicy, doused with plenty of salt, pepper, and garlic, and served with thin, salty frites. Other menu items are just as showy. The pork shank is enormous, with crackly skin and moist, flavorful meat. The seared tuna is über-fresh and perfectly rare, enhanced by a fabulous bed of mushroom späetzle and a swirl of sweet potato purée. Appetizers include steakhouse classics like oysters Rockefeller and shrimp cocktail, but opt for the grilled Caesar salad—smoky-sweet romaine is topped with an intensely garlicky dressing, pine nuts, oven-dried tomatoes, and welcome slices of Parmesan. Subtle, it's not. For dessert, vanilla gelato with Grand Marnier and strawberries strikes just the right sophisticated note, while chocolate pâté is so rich and dense that eating more than a few bites is a pleasant struggle.
49. Gertrude's at the BMA
10 Art Museum Drive, 410-889-3399
A light-filled dining room overlooking the BMA's sculpture garden (in fair weather, there are few nicer places for a meal alfresco) is only the first among Gertrude's many charms. Another is its plethora of special bargains and evenings, like Tuesdays with Gertie, when all special entrees are $12, and Smooth Jazz Fridays, when the sleek surrounds boast a live soundtrack to match. Celeb chef John Shields's Chesapeake-inspired food has its uneven moments, but you can't go wrong with the decadently rich cream of crab soup, the crunchy cornmeal-coated single-fry oysters, or the signature crab cakes with their accompanying array of creative sauces to choose from. In fact, just about anything with crab here is a good choice, as it's Shields' signature ingredient. If you're really all about bargain dining, go for the Springfield Farm's burger, made from all-organic beef from the noted local purveyor. It's delicious—and so is the price ($10). This is a lovely spot to enjoy a good deal, especially when you throw in a glass of wine from the well-composed list. And speaking of wine, it's all half price on Wednesdays after 4, yet another way Gertrude's keeps 'em coming through the door.
50. Ze Mean Bean Cafe
1739 Fleet Street, 410-675-5999
What started as a coffeehouse more than 10 years ago (hence the catchy name) has evolved into a charming, laid-back dining room with a menu highlighting Eastern European cuisine. The mood is super casual in a bare-wood tables and "Hi, I'm Scott, your server" kind of way. But the food shows love from the kitchen. Really, when was the last time you could order borscht and holupki (stuffed cabbage rolls) along with more Americanized fare like sea bass, bison, and ahi tuna in the same place? The hearty Slavic influence shines with a richly dense Hungarian goulash (chunky with homemade potato dumplings) and an excellent appetizer sampler of ground-beef-and-rice cabbage rolls, a golden potato pancake with warm applesauce, three pierogi, and a hunk of smoky kielbasa sausage for good measure. We also never skip the Hriby dip with its velvety wild mushrooms basking in thick sour cream and Gruyère. And how can you not succumb to a place where the owner's mom makes babka (a yeast cake) for dessert—this version laced with sensuous chocolate or heavenly cinnamon?